Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 20

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

I read an article about positive parenting. It followed a few researchers who lived with the Inuit. It reeked of Westernism – ‘they’re so happy!’ ‘They’re such a peaceful people!’ It said they were never angry. No-one’s never angry. Cultural fetishism aside, though, the article had some interesting points.

It talked about stories. The Inuit teach morals and manners with stories. Think mother goose, only it’s an Aurora that steals your head if you don’t wear your hat. All the kids in the city grew up with these stories. All the adults could recount them. They talked about tempting a two year old to hit his mother with a stone. When he did, she’d cry, exaggerated, performing a play, and when he didn’t, she’d hug him. But it was always a story. And that’s how people learn.

As a wannabe writer, that stuck with me. I thought about what stories I’m telling. I thought about what stories I’ve been told. I grew up with Goodnight Moon. What man has that made me?

A funny thing happens these days. Kids are coupled to computers. Their eyes go wide with games and movies, and more than that they’re wrapped up in YouTube. They stream themselves. We watch other peoples’ watching. We consume media so we can talk about it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a different kind of story-telling. You can’t trick the kid to think he’s owed a visit from the tooth fairy. You can trick the kid to believe he might be famous if he posts an insta pic of that lost tooth. In 2019, kids skip a step: they’re becoming storytellers without having been a part of any story. They’re not the heroes but the narrators.

What do you do with that?

Novel Count: 30,349

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami; FINISHED! 

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Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.

Margaret Wise Brown, Goodnight Moon


Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 13

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee; back to office coffee. I don’t know what it’s been with these past two weeks but I just can’t find the motivation to get up early and brew. The days are getting longer. The sun’s out early. Maybe I miss those dark winter mornings in the dining room, crunching black beans, watching the lights come on other peoples’ apartments. Anyway, the coffee was good enough. It took away my headache. It tasted like a dentist’s office.

There’s a lady who lives here who has a mouth full of crooked teeth but doesn’t try to hide her smile. I’m not saying that as a platitude. I’m not about to tell you she’s so ‘brave’ or ‘enlightened’ for letting that stigma roll off her. For all I know, she sees herself in the mirror and wants to pull them all out. For all I know, she doesn’t even see them as crooked. I’m just trying to tell you there’s this lady who smiles and it’s pretty nice when she does.

Banking as a business is about selling secrecy. You need somewhere to keep your accounts away from the house, out from under the mattress. I’ve been in banking for about a year, but I’ve been selling secrecy for several. There’s a pact between teachers and students, teachers and parents, teachers and other teachers, and before that, of course, I was working law.

So anyway, that’s all to say that I hear a lot of people’s secrets. Of course I can’t share them, but I can say that I feel fortunate to see the undersides of people. When you walk someone into an office and close a door, a different part of them comes out. You’ve cut the world like a cake slicer, left off all the icing – what’s inside? Chocolate? Lemon? Nutmeg? And even though some of their secrets are important to conduct good business, most of them are filling – anecdotes that so-and-so can tell me because I’m someone who locks their door.

So my question is this: if my neighbor were in that office with me, would she smile? And if she did, what would she tell me about her teeth?

Novel Count: 29,630

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami; FINISHED!

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And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.

Roald Dahl


Coffee Log, Day 272

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

I was one of those kids who wouldn’t tell his parents a lick about the schoolday.

“How was it?”

“Fine.”

I was similarly stonefaced with friends.

“What are you doing for Thanksgiving?”

“Nothing.”

It was two things: a bit of adolescent embarrassment and a deeper fear that if I let on about the things that moved me, they’d lose their magic somehow. Oh how the times have changed.

As an aspiring author and daily blogger, my life’s cut open like a cleaned fish. There aren’t enough things happening outside of me to have the option of sequestering myself. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe I needed to be open. But that’s a topic for a therapist.

I started to notice the effects of this a couple years ago as I was writing a book. The book was about Japan, about Yamakasa – a Fukuoka festival I’d attended in 2014. The scenes and settings are yanked out of my memory and tinkered until they fit the story. I’ve never had the knack of a fantasy author – the spark of creation, so to speak – so all my writing pulls heavy from places I’ve been and breathed.

Anyway, as I was writing this book, a funny thing happened: when I’d daydream about my time in Fukuoka, I started to see myself in the novel’s version of the city. If I’d changed the name of this or that restaurant, or maybe moved a cafe across town, the memory of me walking her August streets took me through the story; I had trouble digging back to where I’d really been. It was startling. I felt I’d lost something. Well, I had. I had replaced that ‘something’ with words.

I figure that’s why so many writers drink (or otherwise touch oblivion): you cut apart what’s most precious to feed your work.

I wouldn’t give it up. I really couldn’t at this point. In a way, I’m still yelling “Fine!” and “Nothing!” Only now those words ring true to everything outside the book.

Novel Count: 11,198 words

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

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All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

Ernest Hemingway


Coffee Log, Day 208

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; the barista said ‘Welcome to the ‘bou!’ and I said ‘Can I get a Venti?’ We were stuck in different places, trying too hard to cross each others’ wires; she had nice glasses; I never know how long you’re supposed to look someone in the eye when they’re wearing glasses.

In a Sentimental Mood – Duke Ellington; each of the few letters I’ve written in my life, I’ve written while listening to that track. I’m not writing a letter right now, the song’s on anyway. I guess you could say it’s been that kind of day.

I worked with some storytellers. Well, I worked with the same crew I often do, only today I got them telling stories. One woman’s on and on about the cold coffee she didn’t drink yesterday, still in the break-room. She’s scared it might have spoiled. I tell her coffee doesn’t go bad. She tells me her son lives in Boone, they’re getting Hurricane rain, she’s worried about landslides. I look up the coffee – “Was it black?”

“Yes,” she says, and I like her better.

“Then – like I said – it can’t go bad.” She drinks the stuff and stops bringing up her son.

Another lady does color-by-numbers on her phone, says it’s relaxing. I ask her to show me. Instead of showing me, she talks about ‘Three Kings’ Day.’

“In Puerto Rico, we don’t do Christmas, well we do Christmas, but really it’s the ‘Three Kings’ Day’ that we celebrate.” She talks a lot about what her mother cooked, the hay and water they leave under the beds to feed the Wise Mens’ camels. Then a customer comes, and afterward she shows me the app. She never makes the connection between coloring and the holiday; I don’t press her. It’s enough to know about the bright, simple things that matter.

I spent my lunch break gnawing down my Hurricane supplies, my only opened jar of peanut butter on bread. I don’t like the stuff, but it’s no good throwing it away. In between bites ‘1’ and ‘25,000,’ I was caught thinking about you. You have your hair down. You’re in the whitest January morning. There’s everything in the kitchen but you toast the oldest bread, scramble for yesterday’s butter. Our loaf has mold on the front but you shave it off. Somewhere in the house, a few generations of your blood are still sleeping. The jam is so molten it looks like you’ve cut your finger.

We eat in the temporary: an in-between home, you’re staying at your parents, I’ll be driving back to my own hometown in less than an hour. Mild southern winter; mismatched chairs.

Before I’m gone, I tell you that my breakfasts usually come pre-packed with nutrition labels, fortified bars; you say “Gross!” and kiss me goodbye. For the next few weeks, I’m buying whole breadloafs and sticks of butter. These days, it’s back to granola.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

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“In A Sentimental Mood, I can see the stars come thru my room.” – Ella Fitzgerald & Duke Ellington, In a Sentimental Mood

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Coffee Log, Day 198

Hi.

CoffeeTea: Bigelow’s Earl Grey, pre-packed (still need to buy a new coffeepot)

She talked about her dead brother like he was still breathing so I did too. She had wild hair. Sometimes, she walks outside in her nightgown. When I check the ID I see a birthday in the 1920’s. A rager baby, booming in the A.M. of modern America, partying now in it’s dusk.

The brother worked gov’t and made good money. I’ve heard this one before: “He was a banker, you know.” She says it word for word. Doesn’t remember telling me the last time, the last last time, the time before that. We dance.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes, yes. Did you know that the USA paid him $300/hr to fix some messes from the local banks?”

“Wow! That so?”

When she left, the room smelled like cigarettes and other fond memories. Old NC: she’ll surely soon pass to meet her brother, leaving love or nothing. A few dozen years from now, I’ll walk into wherever I’m a regular and say: “Did you know I used to know this lady whose brother was a banker?”

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

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“There’s only one lesson to be learned form life, anyway,” interrupted Gloria, not in contradiction but in a sort of melancholy agreement.
“What’s that?” demanded Maury sharply.
“That there’s no lesson to be learned from life.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned

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Coffee Log, Day 131

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand; back to basics; grinding beans like a kid’s eraser tip

Drake’s got me thinking about kids. It’s the most relevant thing he raps about on ‘Scorpion.’ For those who don’t know, Pusha T called him out on hiding the fact he has a son. He did hide it, but he tries to give some excuses on the album. They’re maybe good, maybe bad. They’re well-written if nothing else.

As a kid, I was pretty convinced I’d never want children. I saw my gangly arms and bowl-cut hair as profound signals: the world doesn’t need another one of these. That notion stuck around until 2012.

That autumn, I helped my partner on some nanny gigs. I remember a walk in the woods. Three boys, me and them, twenty-two, five, and three years old. I was scared of snakes so she led the way. I’m still scared of snakes, a little less so. As we were leaving the park, the littlest kid cried. He was tired. In the way that only makes sense when you’re that young, he didn’t want to leave the cold fall park for a warm suburban bed. My partner started to carry him. He kicked.

That’s when I kicked in: I told stories. I started with the trees: “Did you know it’s fairies that take the leaves and hide them so they don’t get too cold in winter?”

He liked it, wanted to hear more; I needed something better. You could see all the big stones in the foliage. I picked the biggest, roundest, and said: “Did you know that’s actually a sleeping witch?”

He screamed. Not scared, the kid loved Halloween. Half the time he wouldn’t leave the house unless you let him dress like Woody from Toy Story. He just knew that horror was a gate to courage and the kid was ready to be brave.

“She’s a big, gnarly witch. Her nose is this big. Her toes have caterpillars living under the nails. When she breathes it smells like Brussels Sprouts, when she catches you she’ll turn you upside down and tickle you and then give you a cold bath. Run!” I said.

We ran. S didn’t drop him. We got in the car and the kid fell fast asleep. His brother had us play “Moves Like Jagger” on repeat.

That day made me think: how lovely to give stories to a small someone. I still don’t know if I’ll ever have kids. I believe in being responsible and my life is far from bountiful. If nothing else, though, I think I get it.

And yet there are a few thousand families still separated at our border; a few thousand kids in steel cages. America spins a different sort of horror story.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” – Albert Einstein

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Coffee Log, Day 70

Hi.

Coffee: Organic Bolivian Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

It was family tradition to go out to dinner. We’d eat most often at La Fiesta, the Mex-American joint on Church, and back in the day before the remodeling it was a dark restaurant with few windows and brick walls and a big painted mural of two parrots in sombreros. We took turns telling adventure stories about the Amazon rain forest. Idle cultural appropriation aside, those were good memories.

As I got older, dinner nights became waiting for one or the other of my parents to come home from work. I remember blood-orange afternoons in the kitchen and the first sight of my father in a loose-fitting suit. These days, I wear white shirts and black slacks and tie myself up to go to work, then come home and heat something I cooked on the weekends. The only thing that sees me walk through the afternoon sun is a bundle of scratchpads and unfinished word documents bouncing off the taskbar. They’re a sort of family, and I’d like to think they tell better stories.

Currently Reading:
The Pardoner’s Tale, by John Wain

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“My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people.” – Orson Welles
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